Learn how real students navigate their way through the graduate school admissions process and grad school itself with our What is Graduate School Really Like? series.
Meet Shelby, a busy third-year veterinary student and yoga instructor!
Shelby, thank you for sharing your story with us!
I understand you initially considered a career as a medical doctor. When and how did you decide to become a veterinarian?
Shelby: At the end of my junior year of high school, I experienced a tragedy that forever changed my life. Simultaneously, the recession had started to pick up in the United States. I decided to go to college and pursue a major in biology with the intent to go to medical school. My four years of college were not easy, and I realized that I was not interested enough in human medicine to apply to medical school. I graduated from the University of Georgia with no plans, just a burning desire to be happy above all else.
In those unsure times, I decided to make a bucket list of all the things I wanted out of life. Instead of jumping right back into school, I worked as an au pair in France for a year and then transitioned back to the United States, working for a dental sales company in California. While in California, I focused on exploring my interests, which consistently led me to working with animals. In 2015, California’s wildlife took a big hit. I found myself standing on a beach, watching oil wash onto shore, seeing sea lions jumping in and out of the oil-slick ocean.
Instantly, I experienced a moment of clarity. I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping animals. The pieces started to come together shortly after that moment. I moved home to Georgia and started to gain experience working with animals. During this time, I fell in love with the profession and applied after gaining a year of experience.
It was a nerve-wracking process, but getting accepted to the University of Georgia was one of the happiest moments of my life. I continue to be grateful every day for my time in veterinary school and look forward to graduating in May of 2021!
Can you tell us more about your time in France and in California? How did this time enrich you personally and professionally?
Shelby: Moving to a new country proved to be incredibly difficult but so important to my growth as a person. I became fluent in French, made incredible friends, and explored a beautiful country. I met a boy while in Paris on vacation and found myself in Brazil at the end of my year in France.
During this time, I started interviewing for a job working in marketing for a dental company in Santa Barbara, California. I knew absolutely nothing about marketing, but I knew that I could do it. After a couple of Skype interviews, I landed the job and found myself moving to California within ten days of being back in the United States. My then boyfriend moved to California with me and together we later made the decision to move back to Georgia so I could gain experience in veterinary medicine and see if it was a good fit.
What was that year of pre-veterinary school experience like?
Shelby: I worked almost seven days a week at a small animal veterinary practice, Zoo Atlanta, and a wildlife rehabilitation center. I built an incredible network of animal care professionals that I continue to grow today. Right before I applied to veterinary school, I spent two months in Belize working at a wildlife rehabilitation center that focuses on primates and manatees. These experiences have shaped my life and the ways in which I practice medicine and interact with clients. I am forever thankful for my “four-year” gap year.
What was it like working as a veterinary assistant? Can you share a memorable experience?
Shelby: Working as a veterinary assistant prepared me for veterinary school in more ways than one. First, I acquired technical skills that we don’t get to practice that often during school. In addition, I built amazing relationships with the veterinary staff I worked with and the clients of the small animal practice. I learned how to draw blood, place IV catheters, monitor anesthesia, and more. The veterinarian I worked for took me under his wing and taught me how to read blood work, ultrasound, and work up cases before I even started veterinary school.
This guidance was incredibly beneficial, and oftentimes during exams I would know the answer because of something he taught me and not something that I had studied.
My most memorable experience was the moment I knew that I could work as a veterinarian for the rest of my life. Something had gone wrong during my lunch break. I can’t remember exactly what had happened, but I came back to work and my mind was going in a bunch of different directions. My first patient after lunch was a Great Pyrenees. I bent down to hold this giant dog for a heartworm test and it felt like all my problems melted away. That is when I realized that no job would ever make me this happy.
You participated in some amazing internships and volunteer experiences prior to applying to vet school. How did you find out about these opportunities?
Shelby: I stumbled on most of my internship and volunteer experiences by pure luck. One time, I googled manatee rehabilitation and discovered the opportunity at Wildtracks Belize. I would simply google things that I was interested in and research until I found a program that fit in my budget and timeline. I have a lot of these programs listed on my blog.
What has been the most surprising aspect of veterinary school?
Shelby: Initially, the most surprising aspect of veterinary school was all of the opportunities we have as veterinarians. Many people think that becoming a small animal veterinarian is the only path, but we are an integral profession to so many industries. One of my veterinary school friends plans to work for NASA, others will be working with the USDA or CDC, while others will go on to work as lab veterinarians at human hospitals. As a veterinarian, you have so many opportunities that you can take advantage of. I highly recommend you pursue different paths along the way to becoming a veterinarian to make sure that the path you end up on is the right one for you.
You recently started clinics! What are you most looking forward to?
Shelby: Well, this is a tough one! I started clinics at the end of February and then the veterinary school shut down due to COVID-19. I have been in online rotations since then, and I have to say that I am most excited about patient interactions when I go back (whenever that is).
How do you feel about veterinary students owning pets?
Shelby: I think it is a great idea! Often, veterinary schools and clinics in the area offer discounts to veterinary students. Also, it is great to have a pet to better relate to clients. It can be difficult, but most people have roommates to help take care of each other’s pets. Also, veterinary students in the first- and second-year classes are often paid to walk dogs for the upperclassmen who are on clinics.
Let’s talk yoga! How did you become interested in practicing and teaching yoga? How do you make time to continue your commitment to yoga as a veterinary student?
Shelby: This is also a long story, but one day I randomly googled yoga therapy. I didn’t know if it was a thing, but I knew I needed to get help. This was during my undergraduate studies at UGA and I was having a really hard time with the loss of my father. I went to therapy once a week for a year, and in the end, I came out on the other side of grief. I learned how to meditate, uncovered a lot of emotions I didn’t know existed, and started on my journey to health. I put wanting to become a certified yoga instructor on my bucket list. The timing was never “right,” but during my first year of veterinary school I realized the timing would NEVER be right. I just had to go for it.
I knew I couldn’t commit while on clinics, so the only time I could do it was during my second year. I signed up and was so afraid. I committed to one weekend per month for nine months. It was a grueling process doing veterinary school at the same time as yoga teacher training (YTT), but it was important to me.
I graduated from YTT in March 2019 and have been teaching ever since. I make time to practice yoga because I have seen how the practice changes lives. I don’t have to do yoga every single day, but I make an effort to do at least 15 minutes a day. It is so good for your physical and mental health and the practice truly grounds me in reality.
If you want to start your own yoga practice, begin by committing to 15 minutes daily. Create a playlist with your favorite songs on it that lasts about that long and add songs or create new playlists for different lengths of time if you want to practice longer. It doesn’t have to look perfect. You don’t have to be flexible. Just move your body, get your blood flowing, and you will feel so much better.
Your blog features inspiration and wisdom as well as advice about veterinary school. When and why did you start your blog? Has your vision for the blog changed over time?
Shelby: I started my blog during my first year of veterinary school, and started Instagram to promote the blog. Initially, I wanted it to provide information to pre-veterinary students, that I could not locate during my own veterinary school application process. However, it has transformed into something more. My brand now focuses on mental health among veterinary and healthcare professionals. I offer tools to cope with anxiety and stress that can be applied to all walks of life. I share my personal experiences in veterinary school, times in which I have struggled, and times in which I have excelled. The blog is currently getting revamped, so stay tuned for more articles coming out over the next year!
Looking ahead, where do you see yourself after graduation? Do you plan to do a residency?
Shelby: As a veterinarian, we don’t have to pursue the residency route. We can begin to work in general practice immediately upon graduation. This is my plan! I plan to go into small animal and exotics practice and offer acupuncture to my patients. My five-year plan involves owning my own business and continuing to spread awareness for mental health in our industry. I also will continue to teach yoga wherever I end up. I am excited for the future and look forward to seeing where this path leads me.
Do you have questions for Shelby? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Medical School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
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